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Soft Top Roof Insert on a '33 5-Window


My little coupe rocks a stock body, so it hasn’t been chopped or had its roof filled. Many hotrodders choose to weld a metal insert into their roof for various reasons, but we chose to use fabric for a more traditional look. Buckle up; this post has A LOT of photos, but like ‘Speedy’ Bill always said, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

We spent a lot of time readying the roof for its fabric. While I scraped the original sealer tar-looking crud out of the roof rails, my dad drilled out the old pop rivets and spot welds.

We traced the shapes and curves of the roof rails and cut thin strips of thick black mat board. We needed three sets to make a thick enough layer, glued them together and clamped them into place. This will act as our new tack strip.

This is Harry. He owned an upholstery shop here in town and agreed to help us install the fabric. First, he laid out some untreated canvas. He stapled the sides first, pulling as he went and left the corners for last. This minimizes puckers.

He listened to the sound the canvas made when he slapped it with his hand. It sounded like a drum. He trimmed the excess canvas with a razor about an eighth inch from the staples.

Then he rolled out some unrefined cotton. He pointed out the seeds to me. This cotton has layers, which he easily pulled apart to get the thickness he wanted. He laid it on top of the canvas and felt the thickness across the whole top with his hand. He found a low spot and added a little more cotton to that area. He was a real master at work.

Instead of cutting the cotton, which would leave a step in the material, he held one side with a flat hand and pulled to tear the material. He worked his way around the car, tearing the cotton to shape. He mentioned that factory cars used this same canvas and cotton and to be wary of upholstery kits that include a cheap foam.

So, with the cotton all ready, he measured the space for the final black material. (Check out the freshly primered doors in the background. So clean!)

He laid the black material in place and he began to staple the sides like he did with the canvas.

When Harry was ready to staple the corners, he used a heat gun to make the material softer and more malleable. Be careful not to heat the material so much that it becomes shiny.

He did his final check by looking at it and listening to it. It was amazing how much having this piece of the project done changed the atmosphere in the shop. It was finally starting to look like a car and we could see the light at the end of the tunnel for our build.

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